The role of geomorphology in substratum patch selection by freshwater mussels in the Hawkesbury-Nepean River (New South Wales) Australia

Meredith Brainwood, Shelley Burgin*, M. Byrne

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


1. Microhabitat preferences of freshwater mussels and associated substrate characteristics were investigated across a range of geomorphic reaches in the Hawkesbury-Nepean River, Australia. 2. The structure of substratum patches available was strongly influenced by geomorphic reach type. In each reach type, mussel distribution was most frequently correlated with coarse sand and a roughness element characteristic for that reach. Roughness elements such as boulders and cobbles create a flow refuge and were linked with mussel size. 3. Small mussels tended to be associated with boulder-stabilized habitats and medium sized mussels with cobble habitats. Large mussels rarely co-occurred with any particular roughness element. Individual species were strongly linked to geomorphic reach type. This association may be due to species' differences in ability to colonize available microhabitat types. 4. The highly tolerant Velesunio ambiguus dominated shale reaches, characterized by fine sediments and human impacts. In contrast, Hyridella depressa dominated in gorges, utilizing small flow refuges among boulders, while H. australis were present in low densities across a range of substrate conditions. 5. The persistence of multispecies assemblages in mussel beds throughout the Hawkesbury-Nepean River implies similar niche utilization among species. Partitioning of habitats across species on the basis of size suggests some degree of habitat selection, or differential survival. At the local scale, microhabitat characteristics influenced the size distribution and densities of mussel assemblages. Continuing declines in mussel densities are likely to result from ongoing channel modification and increased siltation resulting from changes to riparian vegetation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1285-1301
Number of pages17
JournalAquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2008
Externally publishedYes


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